Are the Nephilim Giants, Gods, Aliens or Angels?

Are the Nephilim Giants, Gods, Aliens or Angels?

Roy Blizzard III © 2013

 According to Genesis 6:4, the Nephilim were the offspring of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men”. According to some translations and commentaries they were also supposed giants who later inhabited Canaan according to Numbers 13:33.  These passages and various commentaries on them have given rise to all manner of theories as to what was being spoken of in the ancient texts, from Space Aliens breeding with men to Gods to Angels. But do any of the ideas hold credence?

The specific word Nephilim, that is supposedly causing all the controversy, is found in only two passages in the whole Old Testament, the first being Genesis 6:1–4 KJV, immediately before the story of Noah;

6:1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,

2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.

3 And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

4 There were giants (Nephilim) in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

This second usage found in Numbers 13:32–33 KJV, is in the story of the Twelve Spies:

13:32 And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. – men of punishment, destroy by punishment or retribution-possibly destroy its population by sacrificing to fire,

33 And there we saw the giants (Nephilim), the sons of Anak, (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim) which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. The fallen ones-the idolaters, from the fallen ones, Anak means long necked meaning tall in stature or ones who force others because of their size or strength,

There are essentially two competing viewpoints regarding who the Nephilim were and both stem from the supposed ambiguous identity of the sons of God, but is this word the only problem with the translations and understanding?

One problem some translators and translations have lies in the very ambiguous nature of the Hebrew language. In Genesis 6:4, many people are unsure whether the Nephilim are the sons of God or their offspring who are the mighty men of old, men of renown. However, a second problem is that many translators just have not understood the context and themes of the Biblical text so they pull things out of context and use the wrong words as a basis for their erroneous translations trying to prove their own belief system.

Viewpoint 1 says the Nephilim are the Offspring of Seth. The earliest known reference to the phrase children of Seth is found in the Qumran fragment 4Q417 -4QInstruction – (the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Therein, God condemned them for their rebellion. Other translators who believed the offspring of Seth rebelled against God and mingled with the daughters of Cain (men), are Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Julius Africanus, Augustine of Hippo, the Letters attributed to St. Clement, and the modern canonical Amharic Ethiopian Orthodox Bible.

Viewpoint 2 believes that the Nephilim are Offspring of Angels: There are a number of early references to the “sons of heaven” as “Angels”. The earliest appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Greek, and Aramaic Enochic literature, and in certain Ge’ez or Ethioptic language manuscripts of 1 Enoch (mss A–Q) and Jubilees. There also were those Christian Apologists who shared this opinion such as Tertullian and Lactantius. The earliest reference made in a secondary commentary explicitly interpreted this phrase to mean that angelic beings mated with humans and can be traced to the rabbinical Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. This theory has since become especially prevalent in modern-day Christian commentaries.

Richard Hess in The Anchor Bible Dictionary believes it to mean that the Nephilim are the offspring or the Sons of God and the daughters of men as does P. W. Coxon in Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible.

The New American Bible commentary suggests a parallel between Jude and Genesis, claiming that the Epistle refers implicitly to the paternity of Nephilim as “heavenly beings that came to earth and had sexual intercourse with women.” The footnotes section in the Jerusalem Bible claim that the Biblical author meant the Nephilim were an “anecdote of a superhuman race”, whatever that means.

In the Second Temple period, about 160 BC to about 70 AD, the beliefs surrounding the Nephilim are expanded in the Jewish “Book of Enoch” and “Jubilees”. The Greek, Aramaic, and main Ge’ez manuscripts of 1 Enoch and Jubilees connect the Nephilim with fallen angels, in particular with the watchers, in Greek egrḗgoroi, Aramaic, עִיר, iyr; from the root of Hebrew `er meaning awake, watchful. Watcher is found in both plural and singular forms in Daniel where references are made to their holiness while in the Books of Enoch both good and bad Watchers are referenced. Samyaza, an angel of high rank, is described as leading a rebel sect of angels in a descent to earth to have sexual intercourse with human females:

“And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: “Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.” And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: “I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.” And they all answered him and said: “Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.” Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it.” “Book 1: Watchers”. Academy for Ancient Texts, Timothy R. Carnahan.

Following this tradition, in Jewish mystical beliefs especially around Qumran, the children of the Nephilim are called the Elioud (a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word Eliad – my God testifies) and are considered a separate race from the Nephilim, but who share the fate as the Nephilim. They are the post flood or post-diluvian children of the Nephilim who were believed to be a part-angel hybrid race of their own.Like their predecessors, the Nephilim, the Elioud were thought of as exceptional in ability and wicked, being in effect, demigods who like the Greek god Prometheus give humans access to divine secrets. Some even argue that they are included within the Biblical phrase “Sons of God” – Bene Elohim.

The Book of Jubilees (7:21–25) also states that ridding the Earth of these Nephilim was one of God’s purposes for flooding the Earth in Noah’s time and describe the Nephilim as being evil giants. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and b Yoma and 1 QapGen ar ii 1 also identify the Nephilim as the angels that fell. Allusions to these descendants are found in the deuterocanonical books of Judith, Sirach, Baruch, Wisdom of Solomon, and in the non-deuterocanonical 3 Maccabees.

Oftentimes, evidence in favor of the “fallen angels” interpretation is said to include the fact that the phrase “the sons of God” Hebrew, בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים; is used twice outside of Genesis chapter 6, in the Book of Job (1:6 and 2:1) where the phrase supposedly is explicitly referencing angels. The Septuagint’s translation of Genesis 6:2 renders this phrase as “the angels of God.”

Traditional Judaism including Rashi and Nachmanides is against the theory that Genesis 6 refers to angels or that angels could intermarry with men. Shimon bar Yochai pronounced a curse on anyone teaching this idea. As a result, most Jewish commentaries and translations describe the Nephilim as being from the offspring of “sons of nobles”, rather than from “sons of God” or “sons of angels”. This is followed by the Targum Onqelos, Symmachus and the Samaritan Targum which read “sons of the rulers”, where Targum Neophyti reads “sons of the judges”. Likewise, Jesus, in Matthew 22:30, seems to come against the view of Angels intermarrying with men by stating that angels do not marry.

Following the Jewish tradition, many Christians believe the “sons of God” who fathered the Nephilim were the righteous descendants of Seth, while the “daughters of men” were the unrighteous descendants of Cain, and the Nephilim the offspring of their union.This opinion dates to at least the 1st century AD in Jewish literature from the 3rd century if not earlier in Christian sources such as Augustine, John Chrysostom, and John Calvin

In the Hebrew Bible, there are a number of other words that, like “Nephilim”, are sometimes translated as “giants” into English; Emim—the fearful ones, Rephaim—the dead ones, Anakim—the long-necked ones, Gibborim – the strong ones. A similar Biblical Hebrew word with different vowel-sounds, Nophlim, is used in Ezekiel 32:27 to refer to dead Philistine warriors. (translations given here are the commonly used ones)

So, having looked at many of the varied opinions and theories in Judaism and Christianity as to what Nephilim means, what are we to decide? From looking at some of the lexical and scholarly opinions given above they appear to be extremely varied and contradictory. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon gives the Hebrew meaning of Nephilim to be “giants”, but this is only based upon the Greek usage of Gigantes or giants in the Septuagint.  However, Brown-Driver-Briggs does state the basic etymology of the word Nephilim coming from the Aramaic is dubious and therefore all other suggested interpretations are all very precarious.

What we can say for sure is that the root form of Nephilim is Naphal, meaning to fall (in some manner). Robert Baker Girdlestone argued the word comes from the Hiphil or the causative form, which would imply that the Nephilim are those that cause others to fall down. Adam Clarke suggested the passive form meaning fallen ones or apostates. Ronald Hendel, while believing it to be a passive form  as Adam Clark, he thinks that it is equivalent grammatically to the word paqid meaning one who is appointed, such as an overseer or the word asir meaning one who is bound such as a prisoner.

Most of the ancient biblical versions, including the Septuagint, Theodotion, Latin Vulgate, Samaritan Targum, Targum Onkelos and Targum Neofiti, interpret the word to mean “giants” probably based again on the Greek Septuagint. Symmachus varies from the rest in that he translates it as the violent ones and Aquila translated it as either the fallen ones or the ones falling (upon their enemies). But we have to remember that almost all of these works were based on the Septuagint word usage of Gigantes which was said to mean Giants.

Given all these disparities, I began wondering how all these scholars, translators and theorists could go from the word in Hebrew, Naphal – to fall, to Gigantes- a giant in Greek, because this seemed to be the key issue? I figured it had to be some translation issue because there was simply no other explanation since Nephilim means fallen ones, not Giants. There is just absolutely no way linguistically or grammatically you can arrive at giant from fallen one in Hebrew, although as you can see, quite a few men have tried.

Given this fact, I conclude it to have been either 1) wrongly translated somehow into the Septuagint as Gigantes meaning giants, 2) a misinterpretation of Naphal, 3) or possibly there was another word usage in the Hebrew text that we don’t have in our texts today since there were five different versions of the Old Testament at Qumran but we have no parts extant of Genesis 6:1-4.

If there were a possibility of a competing Hebrew word in place of Nephilim in the text that stimulated the transliteration error, we simply take the base word meaning for Nephilim as Fallen Ones to have the meaning of fallen to sin or evil, which it does, and this is where we have to begin since it fits the context of Genesis and the fall of man. Then linguistically we have to compare the text of the Septuagint at this word Gigantes and ask ourselves if there is a Hebrew word similar to the Greek word Gigantes with the result that the Hebrew word was treated as a Greek word when in fact it wasn’t. I’ve already shown this to be similar to the way Anathema Maranatha was treated by New Testament translators, see Maranatha? Challenging a Textual Error, by Roy Blizzard III © 2012 on

How could this have happened? Firstly, there is the possibility the translators didn’t understand the context of the story in Genesis and then they failed to follow through on the ambiguity of the textual meaning if the strange Hebrew word was translated as giant. Secondly, the competing text was not venerated as the others and fell out of disuse and were forgotten but with the remnants such as Gigantes inserted.

But this theory s only good if there is a Hebrew word with a similar sound having the root letters GG as does the Greek word Gigantes? Lo and behold, there is a Hebrew word which could be transcribed into Greek as Gigantes. That Hebrew root is called gahg, a noun, meaning a high place of idol worship of the Heavenly bodies and Gods, such as found in Jeremiah 19:13, 32:29, Zephaniah 1:5. So the plural nominative Hebrew word Gagot – a masculine word with a feminine ending, would be translated as those who worship false Gods from high places or idolaters.

Looking at the Septuagint Greek word Gigantes, it is a masculine, third person plural from Gigas. This is the exact same word declension found in the Hebrew and the exact same word, but transliterated from Hebrew into Greek. When one transfers one word in one language to another language sometimes a few letters must change to meet that specific language’s grammar and linguist form. Just take for example the Hebrew word Yeshua. In order to get Yeshua into proper English language form of Jesus, you must change the Y to a J, elide the “Sh” sound and end in “S” not “A”. This is what could have happened here with Gigot.

This passage would then be translated as, “there were idolatrous men in the world and they mated with the daughters of Adam. But is this the right way to look at this passage?

There is another clue to the proper translation found within the text itself and it seems to have gone virtually unnoticed because it is not evident in English translations. There are 140 verses in Genesis in which the word Elohim (God) occurs and there are 21 verses in which HaElohim occurs. The prefix Ha is the Hebrew definite article corresponding to the English word “the” and in English the use of the definite article Ha along with the word Elohim would mean “the (true) God” so as to distinguish him from the false gods of the pagan cultures.

There are many examples of this usage in Genesis:

Enoch walked with the (true) God (Gen. 5:22, 24), Noah walked with the (true) God (Gen. 6:9), Abraham prayed to the (true) God (Gen. 20:17), Joseph told Pharaoh that the (true) God had revealed to Pharaoh in his dream what he was going to do in the future. (Gen. 41: 25, 28), From Pharaoh’s response it is clear he realized that the (true) God did what the false Egyptian gods could not. (Gen. 41: 39)

In addition, Moses, in Deuteronomy, reminds the people that “YHWH is the (true) God. There is no other.” (Deut. 4:35) and “YHWH is the (true) God in heaven and on the earth” (Deut. 4:39)

Since the phrase “sons of God” (Gen. 6: 2 and 6:4) also includes the definite article –HaElohim – this helps us determine correct interpretation of the passage. It should be clear to those who can read Hebrew that the “sons of the (true) God” stand in opposition to the “daughters of Adam”. In other words, the righteous, spiritual creation of man by The True God stands in opposition to the fallen nature springing forth from the woman.

But let’s once again turn to the text for further clarification. The Hebrew phrase

HaAmah HaGibburim –  הֵמָּה הַגִּבֹּרִים – has the meaning of “these ones are the strong men” in English, but there is more than this cursory meaning. Specifically a Gibbor or strong man usually has the meaning of One who acts Proudly towards God as found in Job 15:25. We have to remember that Job is the oldest book in the Bible so this idiomatic usage is very old.

Next, the Hebrew phrase Anshey HaShem – אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם – follows, usually given the English meaning of “men of the name” or “famous”, but given the context here in the Bible, again very important here, this should be translated as “men of the designation” or “men of the mark” which was a common use in Hebrew. Who was “Marked” in the Old Testament? Cain received “a mark” so that no man would attempt to kill him. It would appear to me that this phrase hearkens back to that single important event.

In this final lead in verse to Genesis 6:4 we see in 6:3 “And the LORD said: ‘My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for that he also is flesh; therefore shall his days be a hundred and twenty years.” מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְהָיוּ יָמָיו,  בְּשַׁגַּם, הוּא בָשָׂר; בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם, לֹא-יָדוֹן רוּחִי וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה. Here we have another problem. The word for “abide” is dubious here and makes no sense because the root is Din meaning “to judge or to rule over”. When we look at the context of what is happening in the entire passage and what we know happened prior to Chapter 6, we can see that this word must be translated as govern since man has rebelled and given his authority over to HaSatan.

Now this whole set of verses is becoming clearer.

6:1 And it came to pass, when the Adam (or more properly translated as the Blood of God) began to multiply on the face of the Adamah (the small particles of God’s creation that were commanded to be fruitful and multiply) and daughters were born unto them. (This passage harkens back to Genesis 4:1)

2 And the sons of God (the righteous, spiritual creation of man of the Creator God from Genesis 1:7) saw the daughters of Adam (the fallen nature springing forth from the woman) that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. (Sons of God is also a Hebrew idiom meaning If you have seen the son you have seen the Father because the son is so much like the Father)

3 And the Lord said, My spirit will not govern in Adam during his lifetime, for he also is flesh: and his days will be an hundred and twenty years.

4 There were spiritually corrupted ones in the earth in those days; and also after that spiritual corruption, when the sons of God (males of the Creator God from Genesis 1:7) came in unto the daughters of Adam, and they bare children to them, these same offspring were the proud and haughty men which were of old, men of the name – or in other words descendants of Cain who try to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4).

For the second usage, found in Numbers 13:32–33 KJV, we have some similar issues:

In verse 13:32, we see the following… “The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.” The first issue here is that the text actually says “the land or populace of the land devours those dwelling there”. In historical context and linguistically this could mean that the rulers destroy by punishment or retribution or even there is the possibility that they destroy its population by sacrificing to fire by worshipping Molach. The second issue is that the text actually says that they saw “Men of Measure” or more properly “Men of Punishment”, those that destroy by punishment or retribution – possibly destroying its population by sacrificing to fire. It says nothing of “Giants”.

In verse 33 there are even more problems. 33 “And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim) which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” The word giant here is Nephilim or the fallen ones – the idolaters. The Anak are offspring of the Nephilim or the fallen ones and Anak generally means long-necked or more properly tall in stature, but often Anak can mean ones who force others because of their size or strength, men of punishment. …and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.

You don’t have to be facing 13 foot tall Goliath spawn to feel like grasshoppers. I’m sure the Jews at Auschwitz felt like grasshoppers to the Nazis. If these words in Genesis and Numbers are to agree with the context and message of the Biblical text then this story is about good and evil and the hearts of men and the conflict between the true God of heaven and earth and His followers and the idols that are followed in a secular culture. It’s about men and women and their sons and daughters who have conflicting allegiances. It is about the conflict between the Spirit of God and the fleshly nature of man. There are no space aliens, no Angels or Gods coming down from Heaven trying to have sex with humans, just a simple straightforward story that precedes the narrative of the flood and follows on to the aftermath thereof.

To continue to explore this story, see my work, A Rethinking of the Tower of Babel, 2011© Roy III and Donna Blizzard

If you enjoyed this article you would like my new book “The Gospel of John, An Actual Translation” available on Amazon.

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